Theatre Companies I Want to Form: 1 of 3

I have a few ideas for theatre companies that I’ve been brewing for… well, several years, probably.  I’ve mostly kept them a secret because… I don’t know why.  Maybe I’ve thought someone would steal the idea?  Maybe I wanted to wait until I knew I could form up the companies before tossing out the ideas, idly?  Anyways, thinking on it, I see no reason I can’t fill up space discuss them here on my blog.  Maybe someone will like one of the ideas and join up with me on it in the future.

Now, as I said, I think there is too much theatre within D.C. borders, and, in keeping with that, I’d want any new company I’d form or be a part of is to do two things: 1) be as mobile as possible and at the very least do outreach, if not touring, throughout the region; and 2) fill a specific role which no other theatre company is filling, not just “modern theatre that explores the human, the unexpected, the startling” or something abstract like that – it’s mission statement should suggest a unique service and valuable place within the DC theatre community.  Additionally, 3) I am a big fan of audience involvement, so all of my theatre company ideas are very audience-oriented in determining their programming.  I am a fan of dynamic or pay-what-you-will pricing and prefer crowdsourced, kickstarter-type funding over grant-and-donor-seeking.

The One Year Theatre project I was involved in, before it fizzled, taught me that a theatre company needs some degree of dictatorship, and it needs a central and original leadership team who are all onboard with the same idea from the get-go.  I also learned last year that I am not a natural producer-type, both from One Year Theatre and my Fringe show.  These lessons have been part of what holds me back in even trying to make these theatre company-ideas into realities (yet).

I have three main ideas, which I’ll post one at a time to fill up space avoid making one super-long post, over the course of this week, Monday – Wednesday – Friday.  Here’s number one:

1) Suddenly Theatre

This would be a theatre company that performs short-term original plays, what you might call “sudden” plays.  There are two models for this: first is eXtreme eXchange and its two-week-or-so response period.  In a nutshell, eXtreme eXchange operated in DC for a couple years, assigning playwrights topics based on current events.  For example, for one, each playwright had to write a play about a candidate in the 2008 primary season: McCain, Clinton, Huckabee (that was mine), etc.  We had about a week to write a first draft, about a week to rehearse, and then the play was performed.  I think this model is an excellent way for theatre to be very local and very current, something which no other medium can do besides YouTube videos (sorta kinda not quite).  I see no reason why, with the 200+ playwrights we have in DC, we couldn’t have an ongoing eXeX-style show every single month of the year, with special ones programmed on the fly if there’s some major event like the recent Gray campaign finance scandal or the derecho storm to respond to.  Sure, politics is a tough sell in DC, but I think the freshness and directness of this model, and the multiple viewpoints it invites (approximately six playwrights per event) make it more palatable and attractive.  Plus, if it’s happening all the time, it eventually allows a more satirical or silly approach, to poke fun at recent events and take some of the joylessness out of political theatre.

The second model is the 24-hour plays.  For those unfamiliar, this is where playwrights gather at, say, 8pm Friday night, write overnight, and then have their director come in the morning to rehearse the cast all day for the performance – usually the one and only performance – at 8pm Saturday.  I think the 24-hours plays format is suited to fun experimenting; the ultra-sudden nature of it makes it ill-suited to current event response, because you need those couple weeks of the eXeX model to make a well-thought-out and -researched play.  But as a cauldron for creativity and weirdness, a fun chance for playwrights, directors and actors to team up and let loose, and a unique entertainment for a hip theatre crowd, I think the 24-hour plays is a criminally rare occurrence.  There’s, like, two or three that happen in the DC area every year.  I think they should happen every month.  Maybe twice a month.  It’s certainly very transportable, and certainly very easy to make audience-oriented, and very cheap to do; and we have plenty of playwrights and actors who can presumably commit to a one-off show for a single day.  Really, all you need for this is a venue and enough notice to involve writers, cast and crew.  (The One Year Theatre tried to do this, but sunk because the decision-making process took too long and it became too late to get writers onboard.)

Suddenly Theatre – well let me explain my little idea there- it is named with the awkward adverb (instead of “Sudden Theatre”) in order to pique interest and turn the ear – is it, “Suddenly, there is theatre!” or is it “The theatre called Suddenly” or is it “Theatre which is, somehow, ‘suddenly’ in the way that you could say ‘slovenly'”?

Anyway, Suddenly Theatre could work on a continuous cycle year-round, as once it gets going it’s pretty much self-perpetuating – all you need is for folks to know it’s viable, and they’ll sign up.  Perhaps each month would cycle like this: 24-hour plays on the first weekend; break for one week for planning; meet to start the eXeX process the second weekend; one week for writing, then check-in; fourth weekend, perform the eXeX plays.  Suddenly Theatre could move around from venue to venue all around the region very easily.  It would require very little long-term planning, but would, I believe, provide a great and unique service to the DC theatre community and its audiences.

That’s the idea, anyway.  Tune in Wednesday for the next one.

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One comment

  1. […] Companies I Want to Form: 3 of 3 What if Playwrights Directed Their Own Development? Theatre Companies I Want to Form: 1 of 3 What About Food Truck Theatre? Why Doesn’t Theatre Advertise? Sister Cities, Sister […]

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